Garden

Garden

By
Gill Meller
Contains
14 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 713 8
Photographer
Andrew Montgomery

Bumble bees, warm mornings, dew from the night, clear and beautifully bright. Memories, wheelbarrow rides, me inside. The climbing frame, beans, peas and the scythe. An unnetted fruit cage, birdsong, high sun, parsley, rosemary and sage. We eat, your eyes are full of pride. The air in the shed is cool and of earth, stone and metal. Tomatoes become ripe, the gardener moves from row to row. Baskets of flowers and salad. Potato plants lie drying on the heap. Nothing is asleep.

Lettuce salad with herbs & flowers

When I was younger I worked in a kitchen that served a ‘mixed salad’. The chef taught me how to make it. He said, ‘Put a handful of chopped iceberg in the bottom of this bowl. Then take a few slices of cucumber out of that tub of water and put them on top, then take a few strips of red pepper out of that tub of water and scatter those over the cucumber. That’s it, okay?’ The only thing I really agreed with was that the salad should go in a bowl. Still, in a funny way, that experience taught me more about making a salad than you might think. Sometimes you have to get lost to be found. Here are a few of my current thoughts on putting together a salad now that I’ve been lucky enough to cut and mix my own from the tended organic gardens at River Cottage. There, some lettuces are tight-hearted and bullet shaped; others are soft, open and nearly all water. The majority are light, sweet and clean in flavour, and there are some that are so scarily bitter they shake your mouth and rattle your teeth. None is unpleasant, variety is key.

There is no right or wrong in a mixed salad; there is no recipe – it’s whatever appears on the day. All you need is a variety of fresh leaves that offer a balance of textures, a handful of your favourite fragrant herbs, and, if you can find them, a whisper of colourful flowers and petals.

At River Cottage, the hearted heads grow in rows beside the peppery, barbed orientals, the rockets and the thick, mottled-purple mustards that I love. These leaves give a salad swathes of character. I am able to cut bunches of green herbs (coriander and parsley are favourites). I add these when pert and full of life. When they are left alone, they bloom – a distillation of flavour and fragrance in the bud and petals of the plant. I particularly love flowering fennel and chives, but coriander and chervil flowers make punchy little additions, too. We also grow flowers specifically for our salads; they add colour, contrast and flavour. The sun-up yellow and sun-down orange of marigold is a favourite; as are the fire-red of nasturtium, and the cloud-white and lilac of borage.

There are other interesting things I like to add: young kale and chard leaves, particularly those from red Russian and rainbow varieties; small, tender sorrel leaves; young, raw agretti (monk’s beard); and the uniquely peppery leaves from the nasturtium plant. Fresh carrot tops and tender mint leaves are both worth trying. Scattered cautiously, the smallest blades of wild garlic are pretty good, as are wild garlic flowers. And while we’re on the wild theme, try hawthorn shoots and flowers, small, fleshy sea-beet leaves, chickweed, dandelion leaves, and even young yarrow.

If you can’t grow your own herbs and leaves, buy them fresh from greengrocers, farm shops, allotments and direct from small-scale commercial growers. I find it best to wash the leaves and herbs carefully in a large bowl of very cold water soon after cutting. This is particularly important if it’s warm outside, as leaves will begin to wilt straight away. Invest in a salad spinner and spin your leaves and herbs dry, then keep them in the fridge in a large bowl or deep tray covered with a damp, clean, light cloth. You don’t need to wash the flowers (the water will damage the petals), just scatter them over your salad before you serve.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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